Life is a cycle. I keep finding myself surprised and not surprised at the similar feelings I’m having trying to establish myself in a new
city country as I had when I was first trying to establish myself as an adult leaving conservative christianity. I didn’t really know how to get a job or find friends or relate to people, but I knew how to keep the house tidy and food in the kitchen and bills paid. I felt listless. I eventually figured out how to get jobs, quit jobs, start my own business, find and build community, put down roots, and establish myself as a full human being outside of the shadow of a partner or religion.
I feel like I’m there again. I’m legally allowed to look for work in Germany, but I can’t really get jobs here because I’m not fluent enough in German (which is a requirement if you aren’t skilled/educated enough to waive) to get through the application process.
I find myself rehashing the same feelings I used to work through now as I did when I was 18 and spending the bulk of my days doing household maintenance. I’m good at running a home. I should be, because I spent the bulk of my childhood and teenage years doing it. I take 95% of that responsibility on now because the nature of my business work currently consists of being on-call for consults or relatively quick fixes that happen during my evening which leaves the rest of the day empty.
I want to fill my days with interesting and fulfilling things — making art, playing/recording/streaming games, editing videos, working on my memoir, scheduling podcasts. But now that it’s winter/gloomy/fibro is still in a post-COVID flare, my spoons are extremely limited. I often need to choose between doing household work or making art, and I choose the household work because we need clean dishes and groceries for dinner.
This doesn’t feel fulfilling and it brings up a lot of the old memories associated with being raised the way I was: to be a helpmeet and that’s all. I want to be, and I know I am, so much more than a person who runs the house, but what I’m doing differently now is taking those moments to dig a little deeper.
Why do I feel like maintaining the house isn’t worthy of being counted as work?
Why do I feel like spending all the energy I have on the things that keep us alive, fed, and warm is still something shrouded in shame?
Why do I feel guilty taking breaks between chores to rest and watch netflix? Because it’s not productive? Because washing the dishes and the laundry and getting groceries costs money and doesn’t reciprocate appreciation at me for doing them? The Serotonins are not always strong enough.
Mostly, I don’t want to be judged harshly or seen as unambitious because I am spending most of my limited energy taking care of my home and resting. I was taught that due to my assigned gender, this was a duty, expected, and not something to brag or talk about doing. It wasn’t allowed to be put on the pedestal of “work”. I don’t have interesting stories about doing chores to talk about when my partner gets home. I just did them because they needed doing and I was around to do it.
The reason all of this feels bad has as much to do with the childhood trauma of being told that doing this is all I’m good for as it does the wider, global, cultural phenomena of devaluing and ignoring this labor, because “everyone has to do it”. But not everyone does it and most people don’t do it alone.
Western culture regards people with caretaking or service working roles as lesser, uneducated, unambitious. People who do this work for a living are often degraded and people who choose to do this work for their family at the cost of their own career are often pitied. Of course in homeschool/ Stay-At-Home-Mom circles there is a lot of revere and sometimes a bit of overcompensating awe for making this choice because it is work. It is hard work and requires extremely skilled labor by necessity. Society wouldn’t be able to function if there weren’t people who spent their energy taking care of the boring daily things. It’s a disservice to everyone to view housecleaning, caretaking, and home running as unskilled labor.
I’ve taking to Tooting Through It(TM) and noting how much I’ve done and energy I’ve spent doing the stuff that keeps us going. It’s a lot of work to maintain a mental list of meals we can prepare, ingredients or items that are going to need to be replenished, an estimate of how much groceries/meds/cleaning supplies are going to cost this month with ever-rising (but allegedly petering out, get back to me when the price of eggs goes down again) inflation.
I was taught that my entire role in life was to support a partner by doing every bit of household maintenance outside of getting a job. So when I don’t have what-feels-like-a-job, I fall back on this and entirely forget that I’m a person too. This used to quickly descend into a weird sense of self-loathing but now I just try to remind myself that I don’t have to carry this alone.
I’m realizing that while the social feminization of this work also brought up a good bit of dysphoria when I was younger, now that I’ve become more ~myself~ it also feels a bit subversive. I am the masc who washes the dishes, takes out the trash, does the grocery shopping, cleans the apartment, takes care of the cat boxes, feeds the cats, somehow has not completely murdered the peace lily, and washes the laundry in the terrifying washer/dryer combo machine.
All this energy that I put into making sure that we have everything we need? It might feel invisible. My partner can come home to a tidy house, clean laundry, and a well-stocked pantry, but it wasn’t done by fairies, it was done by a person, by me.
Find you a boi who, etc.
And maybe I’ll remember to ask for help more often, because the responsibility of maintaining a home isn’t and shouldn’t be placed on one person. Even if that person is really fucking good at it.